K.J. Malone takes the blame for that final straw.
He shoulders the burden for that last, game-ending breakdown, the final chapter on a disappointing day for LSU’s offensive line.
He wasn’t loud enough in his presnap call before LSU’s final offensive play of that ugly 16-14 loss Saturday to Wisconsin. Malone’s voice didn’t creep over the 40,000-plus screaming Badgers fans at Lambeau Field.
Left guard Will Clapp didn’t hear the call: Malone, playing left tackle, was shifting left to block a blitzing cornerback, meaning Clapp would have to shift left to block an outside linebacker. Clapp, instead, helped center Ethan Pocic with a block on the tackle, allowing Wisconsin outside linebacker Vince Biegel to shoot through a gaping hole and chase quarterback Brandon Harris from the pocket.
It’s a perfect example of a game-long problem for the Tigers’ front five: There were communication breakdowns against blitz-heavy Wisconsin.
“I just have to be louder next time,” said Malone, a junior starting his first game. “I’m taking that fault. That was on me.”
An LSU offensive line with three new starters made its debut Saturday in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The chore: block last year’s second-ranked defense in the nation, one built by the Tigers’ current coordinator, Dave Aranda. He turned the Badgers’ front into one of the nation’s bests with a scheme built on confusing offensive lines and shrouding pressures.
It worked on his new team.
Harris felt pressure on at least eight of his 24 dropbacks Saturday, an overwhelming figure. Wisconsin defenders pressured him on every third dropback, some of them coming untouched and pushing the quarterback out of the pocket immediately.
In brief interviews Monday, Malone and Pocic uttered the words “same page” seven times between them. Pocic mentioned “all 11 guys” four times during an interview.
The problems were with blitz recognition, and subsequent communication, among LSU’s offensive unit. That includes tight ends, running backs and even Harris.
And there’s no excuse, Pocic said. Sure, there were a few new things from Wisconsin, but LSU, now ranked No. 21 in the AP poll, spent most of the spring and preseason camp battling a similar, blitz-heavy 3-4 defense in practice.
“They did do some (new) things, but there are things that we are prepared for, we’ve seen before, seen against our defense,” he said. “I hate to keep saying it, but we’ve just got to execute.”
Even Pocic, a preseason All-American, had some first-game blues — the most notable of which could have cost LSU a significant gain on a third-down screen pass to running back Leonard Fournette early in the fourth quarter. Pulling on the screen play, Pocic missed a one-on-one block in the open field, a ball-toting Fournette trailing him. Pocic's man tackled the running back for a 3-yard gain on a third-and-8.
LSU punted, and Wisconsin then embarked on an eight-play, 48-yard drive that ended with the eventually game-winning field goal.
“I thought our position group played physical, played hard,” Pocic said. “It’s just some things here and there, like, not executing a play here and there. It takes all 11 guys on offense to get the job done. We all need to get on the same page.”
Miles doesn’t plan to make personnel changes on the offensive line, he said Tuesday, aside from replacing a suspended player. Sophomore Maea Teuhema will replace senior Josh Boutte at right guard for the game Saturday against Jacksonville State (1-0).
A former offensive lineman, Miles chalked up some of the problems to injuries. Malone has dealt with an unspecified injury, and Clapp sprained his ankle last Wednesday, multiple sources confirmed to The Advocate. Clapp also missed a few practices earlier in camp as he recovered from hip surgery in April, and Teuhema missed at least the first week of camp after an ankle sprain he suffered over the summer. Teuhema rotated in twice at right tackle Saturday, a sign, possibly, that the coaching staff isn’t settled with the starting group.
“It could potentially be a very, very good line,” Miles said.
The last offensive play exemplified the problems and revealed one of the “tricks” one Wisconsin defender last week claimed the Badgers had planned for LSU’s front. At least twice, Wisconsin successfully sent a linebacker through the left side untouched: that last play and on a Harris sack in the third quarter that resulted in a punt. Wisconsin linebacker Jack Cichy, the same guy who talked of those “tricks” last week, darted through a hole between Clapp and Pocic on that third-quarter sack.
It was Wisconsin outside linebacker Biegel who got the pressure on the final play, immediately forcing Harris outside.
“We had a few communication issues,” Malone said. “We all just need to be on the same page sometimes. We're fixing that.”
James Bewers contributed to this report.